This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11 episode 16.
Though The Walking Dead season 11 episode 16 “Acts of God” isn’t the series finale for the long-running zombie series, it is the final iteration of something significant. As AMC’s marketing material continuously points out, this episode is the last “mid-season finale” The Walking Dead will ever have.
Though many, many, many, many spinoffs and side projects are on the way in Robert Kirkman’s zombie world, “Acts of God” represents the last time the flagship series will get to introduce a cliffhanger for a new batch of episodes. That’s a big responsibility to bear and this episode takes it quite seriously.
Much of what happens in “Acts of God” is mere leg work to set up the final eight episodes of The Walking Dead, which we now know will continue to feature The Commonwealth and all its corruption prominently. Here is how this final midseason finale of The Walking Dead goes about doing so.
What’s With the Locusts?
Every now and again, The Walking Dead likes to include an audio or visual motif in one of its episodes to make things feel a bit more epic. Right from the get-go in “Acts of God” it becomes clear that this will be one of those episodes. The hour opens in media res with Lance Hornsby coming across the ruins of the Hilltop and the corpse of one of his soldiers. Soundtracking the moment is an absolute cacophony of locusts, extremely noisy grasshoppers that have enjoyed a prominent position in human history as harbingers of doom.
There is really no plot reason to include hordes of locusts in the episode. Characters hear their encroaching buzzing a few times throughout but they don’t necessarily factor into their decision-making. In other words, the locusts aren’t allies to Maggie’s group or Lance’s group – they’re just kind of there. They do, however, give a biblical vibe to the proceedings. Western readers might recognize locusts as one one the 10 plagues God brought to Egypt, as prophesied by Moses.
Note that the name of this episode is “Acts of God” and one of its major themes is the ongoing debate between fate and free will. When Leah and Maggie have their conversation (more on them later) about why Maggie killed Leah’s people, Maggie is adamant that fate had nothing to do with it, saying “It’s not nature or fate. It’s us. I killed your people because it’s what I wanted.” Similarly, Lance seems to be the show’s version of Two-Face now, sporting a gnarly facial scar and a coin to be flipped to determine communities’ fates.
In addition to symbolizing the debate between fate and choice, the locusts also might actually serve another logistical purpose for The Walking Dead. A type of locust in the United States known as a cicada has a 13-17 year long lifecycle, meaning they only emerge to mate once every decade and a half or so. The most recent batch of cicadas to emerge in the real world was known as “Brood X” and dominated the eastern and central U.S.in the spring of 2021. The Walking Dead’s timeline has become quite muddled after several time jumps but the presence of locusts in this episode suggests that perhaps the show has caught up to our present day.
Does Leah Win?
No, Leah does not win. In fact, she loses quite badly. With The Walking Dead clearly set to focus on The Commonwealth in its final eight episodes, erstwhile Reaper leader Leah was something of a loose plot thread. Lance Hornsby thought he could use that loose plot thread to take out Maggie and fulfill his dream of incorporating the Alexandrian communities into The Commonwealth once and for all. But like many jackasses before him, Lance severely underestimated Maggies’ abilities.
Maggie, Lydia, Elijah, and a doomed red shirt named Marco make life hell for Leah and Hornsby’s soldiers at the Hilltop. Though the Hilltop’s central mansion is destroyed, Leah makes it out to fight another day. Unfortunately that fight is short-lived as she does the maddening villain tic of knocking Maggie out to torture her later rather than, you know, just killing her.
That strategy ends with Leah’s death obviously. But what’s notable about said death is that it comes in the form of one of Daryl’s bullets. Leah and Daryl go way back. In fact, one could argue that Leah is the person that Daryl got closest to in all of the zombie apocalypse. Now, however, he has once again chosen his found family above all else.
What Happens to the Hilltop and Alexandria?
Commonwealth Governor Pamela Milton previously informed Lance that the only way they’d incorporate the Alexandrian communities (Alexandria, The Hilltop, Oceanside, and presumably what’s left of The Sanctuary) would be if all communities agreed to it. Unfortunately for Lance, Maggie and the Hilltop were stubborn holdouts.
Even though Leah’s mission to kill Maggie isn’t successful, Lance just decides not to let his memes stay dreams anyway. He pays a visit to Hilltop, Alexandria, and Oceanside and has his stormtroopers unfurl big, fascistic Commonwealth flags outside each one of them. Simply put: everything is The Commonwealth now. What does that mean for the people left behind in those communities? Well, as evidenced by Lance having his troops round up the Oceansiders before he flips a coin, Harvey Dent-style – nothing good.
What’s Next for The Commonwealth?
The entirety of The Walking Dead comic’s (admittedly brief) final arc deals with The Commonwealth and the debate between whether its model of safety over equity is sustainable. While the TV series has peppered in some other storylines like the Reapers in its final season, it’s now clear that the last batch of episodes will deal with the massive community almost exclusively as well.
This mid-season finale deals with corruption at The Commonwealth on two fronts. The first is via Lance Hornsby and his ravenous desire for power and expansion. The other, however, is a bit more subtle. Former Alexandrians/Kingdom-ers Eugene, Connie, Kelly, Magna, and Ezekiel have teamed with Eugene’s girlfriend Max Mercer to expose the seedy underbelly of The Commonwealth via the press. That seedy underbelly includes what Daryl and Rosita experienced a couple weeks ago when the governor’s son Sebastian Milton made them embark on a dangerous mission for his own personal gain.
Based on some documents uncovered by Max, Sebastian (and Lance’s) exploitative policies have been going on for awhile now and perhaps even included Tyler Davis, the disillusioned ex-Commonwealth soldier who made a scene at the governor’s party earlier this season. Eugene and the gang compile their findings and present it in an incendiary newspaper article that features the headline “Pamela Milton Is Lying to You.”
The unrest following this article will undoubtedly be a huge part of The Walking Dead‘s final eight episodes. And based on the precedent set by the comics, viewers are sure to see The Commonwealth’s idyllic image give way to fiery, violent civil unrest.